Ep 14: Interview with Katharine Hayhoe

In Episode 14 of Earth Intelligence, we interview Dr. Katharine Hayhoe—widely recognized not only for her major contributions to climate science, but for being one of the most effective and influential climate science communicators. 

Dr. Hayhoe is Political Science Endowed Professor in Public Policy and Public Law in the Department of Political Science, a director of the Climate Center and an associate in the Public Health program of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Texas Tech University. She is founder and CEO of ATMOS Research, which works to bridge the gap between scientists and stakeholders. 

Host Don Shelby opens this episode asking why Dr. Hayhoe refers to climate change as a “threat multiplier”.

She responds by saying that the only reason we really care about climate change is because of how it impacts us and life on Earth. We care about climate change, she says, because it makes conditions worse in every way we care about—poverty, hunger, health, education, equity, food security, economics. Our problems will only multiply, if we don’t curb climate disruption. 

Lately, notes Joe Robertson, Dr. Hayhoe has sought to highlight the fact that climate disruption is a justice issue. Why, Joe asks, is climate a moral issue for you? She responds by saying “The reason I am a climate scientist is because it’s a moral issue,” adding:

Climate change is an everything issue; it is a human issue. It affects not only every aspect of the planet on which we live; it affects every humanitarian issue and crisis that we have.

Scripture teaches that we should care for Creation, she continues, and “care for the least of these—the poor, the vulnerable, the least fortunate here, as well as on the other side of the world. When I learned that climate change is actively affecting them, and actively harming them, and its effects will continue to multiply, I felt like how can I not do everything I can to help with this issue.”

Myra Jackson notes connections between the commitment of indigenous communities to live in harmony with Nature and the story of Noah’s Ark—conservation of all species in existence. Does denial of climate responsibility put people at odds with their own faith?

Dr. Hayhoe notes that two of the most common objections to climate action in the US are:

  1. “sciency sounding” arguments misrepresenting what science says about climate change;
  2. “religiousy sounding” arguments that misrepresent theology itself.

These “invalid Zombie arguments” persist, she says, because “they are palatable excuses to cover our real objections.” The underlying objection is a resistance to action, because people have been told the lie that fixing climate change will hurt them or work against their values.

In his Inaugural address, Pres. Biden cited Augustine, who wrote “a people is a multitude of rational beings joined together by common agreement on the objects of their love” saying a nation is a community united by common objects of love; Augustine also argued that without access to evidence and understanding, it is not possible to make a truly virtuous choice. When people are denied access to science—an effect of denial and disinformation—are they not also denied ways of acting on their values?

Dr. Hayhoe notes that Christians are being deliberately lied to by people they trust. They’re being given information that is not only scientifically and economically false, but theologically false. They’re being told to live in a way that does not reflect the person they believe themselves to be.

We have to begin conversations with a mutual recognition of shared values.

“Hope has to be active,” says Dr. Hayhoe. “We can’t sit there and wait for it to arrive in our inbox or at the door of our minds. I find hope in all the people in Citizens’ Climate Lobby, lobbying for climate solutions. I do find some hope in politics that takes the science seriously, but it’s a mistake to place all our hopes in a President.” The federal government is one piece, but only one piece, of the overall response. 

The work of finding a better future is work we must all do together—rooted in science and shared values. 


Learn more about Dr. Hayhoe’s work: